Easter heralds brighter days

Easter greetings from the late 19th century
Easter greetings from the late 19th century

Written by Heather Elvidge

Here’s a good one — although it still feels like winter, this Sunday is the start of British Summer Time.

Maybe it’s not so funny. Even lighter evenings aren’t so cheery when temperatures continue to be well below normal.

The cold has held back the opening of spring flowers, although it will help to prolong the blooms when they come out. Daffodil buds are opening now and usually the first tree to blossom isn’t far behind.

No one notices the cherry plum in winter. In hedges it simply blends in; as a small tree it has no particular shape. Then all at once tiny flowers appear along the branches, and soon the whole tree is a mass of brilliant white. Let’s hope it blooms in time for Easter.

Customs

Easter is a holiday weekend when most of us like to get out of doors, so a glimpse of sun would be welcome. But it’s also the most important festival in the church year, celebrating Christ’s resurrection and divinity.

Generally, our forebears celebrated Easter in similar ways to us. Good Friday has seen the biggest change; even in the 1950s this was a solemn day when most shops were closed.

In the 18th and 19th centuries it was unlucky to do any work on Good Friday, except for making bread. The Lent fast was broken with hot cross buns, and all bread made on the day had special powers. It could cure ailments and would never go mouldy, however long it was kept. A cross bun was hung from kitchen ceilings to protect houses from fire and guard seafarers from shipwreck.

Saturday was a normal day, taken up with Easter preparations. While parents were busy, northern kids begged eggs or money by singing a traditional “pace-egg” song. In Pennine mill towns groups of young people performed a short play or dance and this is how one of today’s oddest customs began.

In Lancashire, the Britannia Coco-Nut Dancers spend every Easter Saturday clog dancing through the town of Bacup. Wearing black jackets, breeches and kilt-like skirts with red and blue stripes, eight men click wooden discs in time to the music of the traditional Nutter’s Dance.

On Sunday people used to watch the sun rise, because they believed that the sun danced for joy on Easter Day. Then they attended church, dressed in their best clothes.

It was lucky to wear something new, however modest. Most women could afford new ribbons for a hat, which is how the tradition of Easter bonnets arose.

Easter Monday was the day for sport, fairs and fun activities like egg rolling, so that’s not changed.

This weekend we’ll be saying goodbye to March. There’s an old belief that its last three days are on loan, and they’re not exactly spring-like: “March borrowed of April three days, and they were ill. The one was sleet, the other was snow; the third was the worst that ever did blow.”

March came in like a lamb, so there’s every chance that these Borrowing Days will roar like a lion. And with a cold north sea and continuing easterlies, April looks set to remain chilly. But at least the sun is on our side now, so temperatures should slowly recover.